Frankly, I knew it would be within five minutes of arriving. As we rounded the driveway and pulled up to the castle’s entrance, the theme song from Downton Abbey started playing on a loop in my mind. We were greeted - not by Carson - but by John, a porter who’s been working at the Dromoland for more than 40 years! All the porters here are older gentlemen who likely could run circles around a teenager. Once in the lobby, we immediately were greeted by an exuberant front desk clerk named Noreen. Her genuine attentiveness made us feel like royalty. Next we were handed off to Claire, who guided us through the castle’s winding hallway, up a grand, red-carpeted staircase, pass an exquisite stained-glass window to our room in the turret. Yes, the turret. It was just the start of glorious few days in County Clare.
KidTripster Tip: Arriving at Dromoland with young children? The staff will go out of their way to make your children feel like royalty, too. When they check in, kids are given a choice between a crown or shield and then encouraged to explore the castle as they would their own home.
Where to stay?
Built in the 16th century, Dromoland Castle was the ancestral home of the O’Briens of Dromoland, the descendants of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. The castle has a long and storied history which includes once being gambled on a horse race and then years later spared from almost certain destruction by the IRA.
Overlooking the lake and the castle’s gardens, the Deluxe and Executive Deluxe rooms are uniquely and impeccable designed. Our turret room was a showstopper. The room had an Irish plaid carpet, crystal chandelier, and sitting area with a gray velour sofa and chairs accented with gold throw pillows. There was a separate table and chairs overlooking the fountain and archery range where we found a bowl of complimentary fruit and chocolates. Let me pause a moment to talk about these chocolates. They would make an appearance every night during the turn-down service. They were so delicious, so decadent that I tracked down the housekeepers to find out the brand: Lily O’Briens. Needless to say, I purchased several boxes at the Dublin airport to bring home.
Families will be relieved to find two double beds in these rooms, a rarity in most European hotels. However, if you decide to opt for an adjoining room for your kids, be prepared to be wowed. In the their room, you’ll find junior-sized robes and slippers plus jars of candies and Dromoland stuffed bears. Evenings are capped off with cookies personalized with each child’s name, jugs of cold milk, and a selection of Irish fairy tales for bedtime reading. If you’re not careful, your little prince or princess may get accustom to the royal treatment!
The opulent bathrooms are stocked with high-quality, luxurious Asprey toiletries and fresh flowers. Yes, there are fresh flowers in the bathroom!
KidTripster Tip: So convenient! The electrical outlets in the rooms are actually modified to accept American plugs.
Deluxe room rates begin at around $352/night during low season and around $900/night during high season; Executive Deluxe room rates begin at around $459/night during low season and around $1151/night during high season, depending on the exchange rate. Staterooms and Executive Staterooms also accommodate families of four and have a sitting and dining area along with a higher price point.
KidTripster Tip: Look for online discounts on specialty packages that include activities.
What to do on the property?
Once you realize just how many things there are for a family to experience at Dromoland Castle, you’ll consider booking more time.
KidTripster Tip: When you arrive, grab a copy of the weekly schedule. Each day, there’s a special, complimentary activity for guests from Irish coffee making (and tasting!) and Guinness pint pulling to garden walks with the head gardener Dorothea and cellar tours with the castle sommeliers.
One of my family’s favorite ways to explore the grounds at Dromoland Castle was free! Guests can borrow bikes to ride around the lake, around the golf course, and through the enchanting woodlands. Make sure to stop at the estate’s garden, designed by Andre Le Notre who planned the Gardens at Versailles. It’s truly something. The yew tree gallery dates back to 1740!
KidTripster Tip: If you prefer to explore on foot, pick up a walking map at reception. Highlights include the hermit’s grotto, the mysterious Temple of Mercury, and the bug hotel. That last one will get your kids’ attention.
KidTripster Tip: It’s important to book the paid activities listed below in advance of your visit. During high season, reservations can fill up. You don’t want to come all this way to be disappointed.
Clay pigeon shooting
My teens are competitive by nature (Who am I kidding? Their parents are pretty darn competitive, too!), so clay pigeon shooting is right up our alley. Also known as skeet shooting, the sport involves shooting blanks from a shotgun at flying clay discs. It requires quick reflexes and a keen eye. Challenge accepted!
My family and I took at introductory session with David who expertly guided us through our first round. I’m not afraid to brag; I handily beat both my son and husband with a perfect 5 for 5 round. Of course, they quickly caught on, and by the end, were hitting the targets quite consistently. Each shooter get at least 30 shots; the session last about 45 minutes to an hour. Cost for three people: about $66/person, depending on the exchange rate.
The falconry experience at Dromoland Castle really should not be missed. You’ll learn about the intriguing history of falconry, but of course the real highlight is seeing and holding the birds themselves.
I went on a walk with trainer Michael and his Harris’s hawk, Brian, for more than an hour. I learned some fascinating facts. For example, did you know that Brian needs to be weighed each day to determine if he’ll be allowed on the falconry walk? If he weighs too much (too full), he won’t follow us as we bait him along. He’d likely perch in a tree and stay there until the next morning. Handlers refer to this condition as being “fed up.” That’s where we get the expression “to be fed up” with something. Who knew?
After the walk, Michael brought me to the on-property aviary to see the other hawks, falcons, and owls. During my visit, I got to hold the baby Irish barn owl named Púcu. His feathers were amazingly soft. Cost for three or four people: about $67/person; spectator only about $28/person, depending on exchange the rate.
Want to nock and shoot like Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark? Start with a lesson at Dromoland’s archery range. It’s something the whole family can do together. Each person gets 30 arrows and 45-minutes of expert instruction. Cost for three or more people: about $39/person, depending on the exchange rate.
Experience County Clare from a saddle. The Dromoland Estate has various treks where you can ride through idyllic pastures. Or you can head to a nearby equestrian center which offers indoor arena rides and lessons for all ages. 1-hour trek cost: about $112/person, depending on the exchange rate.
Or climb aboard a traditional Irish trap pulled by one of Dromoland’s handsome ponies for a tour and history lesson from a jarvey (driver). He’ll tell you about the royal and celebrity guests who’ve stayed at Dromoland Castle including former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, John Travolta, and Bono. 30-minute ride cost: about $88/2 adults; 1-hour ride cost about $110/2 adults, depending on exchange the rate; children (12 and under) are free with paying adult.
How many times have you gone fishing with an ancient castle as your backdrop? Dromoland Lough is generously stocked with trout and perch, so your chance of reeling one in from the lakeshore or from one of the estate boats is pretty good. Just catch and release or ask for your prize to be brought to the kitchen and cooked by the chef! Fishing is complimentary; guides (called “ghilles”) can be hired. Cost: about $90 for 3 hours, depending on exchange the rate.
KidTripster Tip: Even if you’re not an angler, make sure to row out into the middle of the lake for picture-perfect view of the castle. And yes, take a photo! I recommend sunset. I also recommend having your kids do the rowing! You can arrange a complimentary ride at the fitness center desk.
The Dromoland Castle Golf and Country Club is unlike most courses in Ireland. The 18-hole, par-72 course playing 6,824 yards is a parkland course rather than a traditional links course. It’s also more playable than some bucket list Irish courses. In fact, I even parred a hole! (Ok, that’s a big deal for me!) 18-hole cost during the high season (mid-March to late October) about $95 to $123/person; during low season (early November to mid-March) about $78/person; club rental about $45; golf shoes about $11, depending on the exchange rate.
KidTripster Tip: Looking to get another great photo of the castle and grounds? Snap a shot on the tee of hole 7. Not golfing? You can ride your bike there.
KidTripster Tip: Even if you decide not to play an entire round, check out the practice facility. Each of the driving range bays is outfitted with automated power tees - the ball pops up on the tee, alleviating the need to bend over and set your ball between hits. C’mon, that’s cool!
If you’re looking for an even greater challenge on a traditional links course, I’d recommend Lahinch Golf Course which is about a 45-minute drive from Dromoland.
Dromoland Castle has a full-service spa which offers luxurious facials, massages, manicures, and pedicures. Know that children are not allowed in the spa; teens (16 and up) can partake if accompanied by their parents.
Other activities available at Dromoland Castle: tennis (must pay to rent balls and racquets), complimentary fitness classes, fitness center, indoor pool, and hot tub.
KidTripster Tip: Dromoland does have a Kids’ Club, but it’s only open during school breaks and holidays. Check in advance of your visit.
What to do nearby the resort?
Granted, you’ll find it exceedingly difficult to leave the glorious grounds of Dromoland Castle. But as beautiful as it is, the surrounding area is stunning, too.
Cliffs of Moher
Rising more than 700 feet from the crashing surf of the Atlantic, you’ll find the majestic Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are one of the most famous viewpoints in all of Europe - and for Harry Potter fans, the entrance to the cave in which Harry and Dumbledore find the fake horcrux in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Dromoland guests can take a daily tour which departs the castle at 8:40 a.m. and returns at 6 p.m. You’ll be driven to Doolin, where you’ll take a ferry to one of the Aran Islands, Inis Oírr, and then return under the Cliffs of Moher for a truly unique vantage point. You’ll then visit the town of Doolin and the cliffs’ Visitor Centre. Know that the tour is weather-dependent. Cost: Youth (under 5) Free; Youth (ages 5-16) about $39; Adult about $50, depending on the exchange rate.
If you decide to visit the cliffs on your own (which is very easy to do), I recommend arriving by 9 a.m., skipping the Visitor Centre, and heading straight to the cliffs. Soon after that, one tour bus after another will start arriving, making the experience less enjoyable. If you pay the extra admission to climb O’Brien’s Tower for the best views and photo ops, turn right and follow the path. Then shake the crowds and head south toward Hag’s Head. You won’t have to hike far to find some solitude. General admission cost: Youth (under 16) Free; Student about $6; Adult about $9. O’Brien’s Tower admission: Youth about $1; Adult about $2, depending on the exchange rate.
KidTripster Tip: Check the weather before you go. If the cliffs are socked in with fog, it’s not worth the trip. You’ll hardly be able to see in front of you.
KidTripster Tip: You may be tempted to go to nearby Burren National Park. The word “burren” comes from the Irish word “boíreann” meaning “a rocky place.” Geologically speaking, it’s thought to be one of the finest examples of a glaciokarst landscape in the world. But to be honest, my son and I found our hike here to be unremarkable, especially when compared to the national parks in the United States. We visited in May during the peak of wildflower season. Tradewinds bring seeds from all over Europe that find their way into the nooks and crannies of the Burren’s limestone and then bloom. While we certainly saw wildflowers, I wouldn’t describe it as a “superbloom” like in California.
Photo courtesy: Cliffs of Mohr
Where to eat?
I’m struggling to find the words to describe the culinary creations that emerge from the kitchens of Dromoland Castle’s numerous restaurants. Renowned for his award-winning cuisine, Executive Head Chef David McCann has scoured the countryside for the finest artisan producers and growers that Ireland has to offer. He’s found most of the best ingredients on the farms, in butcher shops, and on board the fishing boats right in County Clare. On the menu, the chef pays tribute to his providers by listing who contributed to the dish - Newmarket-on-Fergus Family Butchers, Garrihy Sea Foods, Burren Smokehouse, and the like.
The quality is undeniable, but the presentation is sublime! Honestly, the desserts are some of the most beautiful food that my family and I have ever eaten - absolute masterpieces on a plate. To say that it was Instagram-worthy would be a total understatement.
Dromoland Castle’s signature restaurant is the elegant Earl of Thomond. Think Venetian silk, crystal chandeliers, and polished silver. It’s not what I would describe as family-friendly, but if you have well-behaved foodies or older teens, you could eat a (very expensive) family meal here. Dinner is served promptly at 7 p.m.; reservations are strongly suggested. This restaurant also serves breakfast.
KidTripster Tip: While jackets are optional, smart dress is required. Admittedly, this was a bit of a challenge for my family that travels by the rule, one carry-on per person only. We certainly weren’t dressed to the nines, but we made it work.
By contrast, The Gallery is an intentionally comfortable space draped in reds with hunting mounts on the wall and warmed by a roaring fireplace. The Gallery serves coffee and scones in the morning, a light lunch in the afternoon, and a casual dinner in the evening. But the most celebrated time of the day here is Mrs. Whites Afternoon Tea (about $33/person), served from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. There’s also a champagne version (about $49/person) and a special Children’s Afternoon Tea (about $20/child) which replaces freshly-made finger sandwiches with ham and cheese, peanut butter and jam, and Nutella varieties. But never fear, there are plenty of pastries and scones with clotted cream and raspberry preserves for all!
You also can order off The Gallery menu in the neighboring Cocktail Bar. Once the castle’s library, this octagonal room is lined with window seats from which you can either gaze out over the castle lawn or take in the show at the bar… and believe me, it’s a show. The cocktails here are incredibly imaginative, intricate, and unfortunately, expensive. Bartender Alex crafted most of the recipes on the signature cocktail menu where all the drinks are named after tarot cards. We ordered Death - Jamison Black Barrel, Kahlúa, cherry puree, balsamic vinegar, and chocolate cookie syrup - and Moon - Kalak vodka, Crème de Cacao White, Frangelico, Baileys, and cream. Yes, it’s like dessert in a glass. The bar’s signature cocktails range in price from about $20 to $34 each, depending on exchange the rate, so you’ll want to sip slowly.
Away from the castle, you’ll find Fig Tree Restaurant at the golf course, serving soup, sandwiches, and hearty entrées like Irish beef and Guinness stew or local leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic.
KidTripster Tip: If you want to take full advantage of the castle grounds on a sunny Irish afternoon, have the staff pack you a gourmet picnic lunch to enjoy.
Dromoland Castle is located just 8 miles from Shannon Airport, which has direct flights from Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. There’s no shuttle service from the airport.
Alternatively, the castle is a little less than a 3-hour drive from Dublin.
Flying into Dublin? Read how to spend 36 hours there before exploring the rest of the country. Click here.
Interested in our other picks for top castles and manor stays in Ireland. Click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah still dreams about the pillow chocolates and the Moon cocktails at Dromoland.
This writer received a discounted stay for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.